It's less than a week until Thought Bubble Comic Con 2013 so I wanted to celebrate the upcoming event with an interview with Jade Sarson, creator of Cafe Suada and nominee for this year's British Comic Awards.
You're known for your comic Cafe Suada (which is completely lovely), a story about rival tea and coffee shops with a dash of romance. What inspired you to come up with the idea?
(Thank you so much.) Cafe Suada started out as a 7 page black and white comic called Battle of the Beverages; it was my back up entry to the 2010 Manga Jiman competition. The theme was something to do with the Sun I think, so I had a wacky idea for a short battle between “Sunbeam Teahouse” and “Eclipse Coffeehouse” and thought it would be a fun one off short. I had thought my other entry was more interesting and had more clever character designs and concepts – but how wrong I was! Both entries were published in the 2010 Jiman comic collection Leek and Sushi 2: Manga Cupcakes by ITCH Publishing and the reader response was amazing. Everyone demanded more comics about the unnamed tea waitress and coffee waiter! I was in my second year of university at the time, studying for my illustration degree – so I decided then that whenever I wasn’t working on my degree illustrations, I would develop Battle of the Beverages into something I could really sink my teeth into. I read lots of shoujo comics at the time, and those really inspired how I began to write the story (with dashes of shounen when the battle element reared it's head!), and visually I was studying lots of illustration so that helped inspire the unique visuals. It was another year until BotB had been completely reimagined as Cafe Suada and made its web debut.
How far in advance do you plan Cafe Suada? Do you know what's going to happen in future volumes or do you see how it goes?
I spent a good deal of my final year of university planning out Cafe Suada’s plot, so the answer to this is yes and no. I know that there are key plot points and scenes I need to cover during the story, but how or when each of those points is reached is unknown. There are around about 16 key stages to the story I would say, and 4 of those have been covered in the 3 books I’ve released so far. In between each of the key stages anything can happen! I leave writing each chapters script until the latest chapter is nearly over online, you see, so that I can come up with new ideas to flesh out character development and general story and gag ideas that I might not have had years ago. This way I feel that the storytelling can improve and flow more naturally than if I stick to a dated script I wrote at the very beginning. What I will say is that I have always had a very clear ending in mind, and I fully intend to reach it eventually.
Your work is inspired by a blend of manga and more western illustration. What are your inspirations for your artwork?
Oh boy, here we go, it’s always hard to answer this question as I am being influenced all the time and my art and storytelling styles are always changing and improving as I draw more comics. I’ll start with artists. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Eiichiro Oda, CLAMP, Hiromu Arakawa, Yuu Watase, Maki Murakami, Hisaya Nakajo, Tessa Stone, Yukipon, Glen Keane, Tony Fucile, Jamie Hewlett, are all names that spring to mind as big influences. Their works range from delicate shoujo to inventive character design and emotive animation. Other artistic influences have been from old British girls comics annuals, which I collect whenever I can as the artwork is surprisingly gorgeous (despite the stories usually consisting of “Suzie can’t get a boyfriend and her dress isn’t ready for the party!”). These old comics were also what gave me the idea to use teastained pages – all the old comics I own have aged terribly and the paper has gone brown, which struck me as an interesting contrast to the bright and colourful glossy comics of today.
Now, onto writers, as that is also incredibly important to making Cafe Suada great. I love J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett; I think the sarcastic, witty, quintessential Britishness of their books has been a huge influence on how I write Cafe Suada’s dialogue. Graham Linehan’s clever sarcastic sitcoms have also inspired a lot of the comedy moments. I am also hugely influenced by the works of Richard Curtis (Geraldine is named after one of his best characters) – a lot of people find his overly optimistic worldview irritating, but I find it refreshing, and it’s an optimism that I try to bring into Cafe Suada whenever I can. Comics, after all, are a form of escapism – and while it’s great to escape into the gritty darkness of Batman sometimes, I feel it’s with Cafe Suada that you can escape to a beautiful teahouse where you feel at home with your (albeit strange) friends!
You're clearly an incredibly talented artist with a fantastic style. When did you first become interested in illustration?
I went through my entire childhood and school days adamant in the belief that I would be an illustrator – I had a moment when I was very young, reading a pile of books as I always did, when I realised “someone’s job is to draw these book covers!” and that was that. Quentin Blake became my hero. It was only in my early teens that I discovered comics and completely fell in love with telling a story entirely with art, instead of simply illustrating a cover or a few key scenes.
Aside from Cafe Suada, you've worked on a plethora of projects. Which has been your favourite to date?
Oh gosh, tough question. I really love working on short comics because I always try to break out of my comfort zone and try something new with each one – there’s one I did for the Observer competition this year called Mabel and her Labels which I’m very happy with because I really feel like my grasp of colour theory has gotten better with colouring it. Siddown! is also a personal favourite with all the historical aspects in the illustrations, but it is also a frustrating project too that I need to hurry up and get out there, it’s been too long on the backburner! If I’m perfectly honest, I love all my projects to bits, no matter how old they are – a lot of artists seem to hate looking at old work but I’m always proud because I know that each project is the best that I could do at the time I did it, and it’s cool to see that I’m always improving. There’s a whole lot of new projects I’m working on that are hush-hush that I’m really excited to tell people about eventually too!
You've released a six-page pilot for your graphic novel Siddown! Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Siddown! is a comic about the hilarious, daft, exciting and at times heartwarming story of one passenger called Sid Downey in his search to find an empty seat on a British time travelling train. He ends up unwittingly involved in the journeys and relationships of his fellow passengers, and in doing so learns more about himself than he planned to. It’s a really fun comic to work on as it’s full of characters from all eras of British history, so I get to draw lots of different bodies and outfits and cultural clashes. Sid is great fun to write, he’s your typical irritable Englishman with an uptight sense of propriety and etiquette who learns to open up and be more honest with himself – with help from the rest of the cast who were an interesting challenge to design. With a train full of passengers from lots of time periods, it’s a challenge to make the main characters stand out amongst it all – I hope I’ve pulled it off. I guess we’ll see when I get around to actually bloody finishing it! I will, honestly.
How does it feel having been nominated for the British Comic Awards at Thought Bubble this year?
Incredible. I was at London MCM Comic Con this past weekend and the amount of people that congratulated me really made me happy. It’s only the second year that the awards have been going, so it’s even more unbelievable that I was nominated. I’m still in shock really, I mean there are so many talented creators based here in the UK who I admire, and comparing my work to theirs is impossible, so I don’t envy the judges that task! Sometimes as a comic artist it’s very hard to keep your chin up and keep motivated, being shut away from the world, losing your grip on whether or not people are even enjoying your work anymore. So to have been nominated for Best Emerging Talent was a brilliant boost to my confidence, and made me feel like everything I’ve been working on has been worth something. It’s like someone stepped out of the unrecognisable mass that is the rest of the country and said “You can do it. Keep making comics. Because we think they’re pretty darn good.” So it’s been wonderful to have proof that they think my comics are good enough, and I think I’ll have buckets of motivation left for ages!
And finally, where can we find you at Thought Bubble Comic Con this year?
I shall be in the Royal Armouries hall, sharing a table with my lovely con buddy Amanda Elanor Tribble, on table 38! We’re pretty close to the entrance, so we should be easy to find. There’s a floor plan for all of the halls here: http://thoughtbubblefestival.
for all those other amazingly talented comic artists you need to find.
Check out Jade's site http://teahermit.co.uk/